Cardinals’ linebacking corps near top of USA Today positional rankings
Undoubtedly, the strength of the Arizona Cardinals’ defense is their linebacking corps.
Comprised of dynamic edge rushers and playmakers in the middle of the field, Arizona’s linebackers helped their defense hold opponents to just 305.2 yards per game in 2016, the second-lowest total in the league.
Nate Davis of USA Today continued his series of ranking individual position units around the NFL, and he has the Cardinals’ linebackers at No. 4 in the league.
Perhaps the most unsung group in the league. Chandler Jones and emerging Markus Golden teamed for 23½ sacks last year and will be joined by Jarvis Jones, who can handle dirty work outside. Deone Bucannon — he was at the forefront of making safety/linebacker hybrids chic, earning him the distinctive “$LB” position in Arizona — is an impact player, but ankle issues are presently a concern. Not to worry, first rounder Haason Reddick, who’s shifting inside after starring at defensive end for Temple, could be a mismatch, especially on passing downs. Ever-reliable Karlos Dansby returns after he and Kevin Minter (Bengals) switched sides in free agency.
Jones and Golden were the only teammates in the NFL to each have double-digit sack totals in 2016. Jones was rewarded with a massive five-year, $82 million contract in the offseason.
There is some concern about Bucannon. The dynamic fourth-year player had ankle surgery in June and is a candidate to start the year on the Physically Unable to Participate (PUP) list when training camp gets underway. Reddick, the 13th overall pick out of Temple, will see plenty of playing time in camp in Bucannon’s absence.
Dansby, an ageless free agent signing, is back for his third stint with the Cardinals. When he last wore the red and white, Dansby put together an incredible 2013 season, registering a team-high 122 tackles to go along with 6.5 sacks and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Since leaving Arizona in free agency, Dansby has continued to put up big numbers in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Jarvis Jones, Gabe Martin, Kareem Martin, Alani Fua and former University of Arizona standout Scooby Wright will battle to fill depth positions among the linebackers.
Davis ranked the Carolina Panthers’ unit, led by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, as his top group in the NFL. They were followed by Denver and Seattle, with the Kansas City Chiefs rounding out the top five.